via Oli Pryce, an interview with Dr Vince Pigott and his work on metallurgical research in Southeast Asia.
Lecture at the Siam Society, Bangkok on 1 November 2018.
DATE: Thursday, 1 November 2018
TIME: 7:00 p.m.
PLACE: The Siam Society, 131 Asoke Montri Rd, Sukhumvit 21
The Bronze Age produced revolutionary innovations like the drums, stronger and more sonorous than their wooden and skin predecessors. They created new rites and bestowed on their owners a prestige even in the afterlife. On their drumhead (tympanum) and their cylindrical base, the drums were engraved with decorations open to interpretation, including the iconic frogs deemed to control the rain. Southeast Asian communities bestowed a new mission on the drums, not only as a source of sound but also to evoke values deemed crucial for everyday life or for the afterlife, from the steppes to the tropics. From inception to the present, the evolution of bronze drums spans around 2,500 years. Rituals have been conducted in their presence, from modern south China and Vietnam to Indonesia, including Indochina and Thailand. Bronze, an alloy resistant to corrosion, elevated the status of these objects from simple pots to valuable masterpieces of creativity, at the crossroads of spiritual and commercial values. They belong to the treasures of humanity, housed within museums around the world and still used at solemn ceremonies, including the funeral rites in October 2017 of Thailand’s beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej. In my talk, I will trace the evolution of bronze drums across centuries and Southeast Asian cultures, in Cambodia, China, Laos, Indonesia/Bali, Malaysia, Myanmar/Burma, Thailand and Vietnam.
Stone moulds used for metal working were discovered in northern Vietnam.
Dong Son-era bronze casting moulds found in Yen Bai
Viet Nam Net, 28 June 2016
Axe- and chisel-shaped moulds made of stone dating back to the Dong Son civilisation (about 2,000 – 3,000 years ago) have been discovered in the northern mountainous province of Yen Bai.
The axe-shaped mould is 8.1cm long, 5.1cm wide and 2cm thick, and weighs 120 grammes. Meanwhile, the chisel-shaped one is 11.2cm long, 5.6cm wide and 3.2cm thick, and weighs 360 grammes.
The two stone moulds are being kept at the provincial museum, according to the museum’s Deputy Director Ly Kim Khoa.
He said in early March this year, a farmer found two stone objects with unusual carvings at an eroded section on the Hong (Red) riverbank in Dong An commune, Yen Bai’s Van Yen district. The farmer sent the objects to the museum for examination.
Full story here.
The Preah Khan of Kampong Svay – not to be confused with the temple of the same name in the Angkor Archaeological Park – is a great complex located in Preah Vihear province, with much archaeological potential as the hub for iron production in the Angkorian period.
Cambodia Daily, 24 April 2016
But why this once affluent site was left to fade into jungle overgrowth centuries ago still remains a mystery. Prak Sonnara, director of heritage at the Ministry of Culture, calls it “one of the most enigmatic provincial centers of the Khmer Empire.”
It was also gigantic, noted Canadian archaeologist Mitch Hendrickson. “An interesting temple because it has multiple phases and it just tends to grow outward and outward and outward to the fourth enclosure walls which are earth and not stone,” he said.
“You look at the area that that encloses: It’s roughly 22 square kilometers. Just to put that in perspective, Angkor Thom is 12 square kilometers,” he said, referring to the walled city in the Angkor Archaeological Park.
The complex of Preah Khan—the largest single-temple compound erected during the Angkorian empire—was built over several centuries, from the late 10th century through the late 12th century, Mr. Hendrickson said. “So [kings] Suryavarman I, Suryavarman II and Jayavarman VII all have a footprint here. And kings in between seemed to have had some sort of modifications here and there.”
Full story here.
A new paper in the BEFEO details the discovery of a large bronze workshop found near the ancient palace in Angkor Thom, which suggests a centralised production of the metal sculptures.
Digging for where the gods were constructed
Phnom Penh Post, 05 March 2016
12th Century Bronze Workshop Found in Cambodia
New Historian, 15 March 2016
One of the most famous bronze sculptures found at Angkor is the West Mebon Vishnu. Dating to the 11th century, the piece now at Phnom Penh’s National Museum is merely a fragment – albeit a car-sized one – of the top half of a reclining Vishnu.
Archaeologists estimate the four-armed Hindu deity’s original length at six metres, which makes it comparable to the largest bronzes in the region. Ancient artists would have spent months slaving over it. Yet where Angkorian bronze makers would have spent those months in toil has long puzzled researchers – until now.
The discovery of a sprawling bronze workshop found adjacent to the ancient Royal Palace of Angkor has gone a long way in solving the riddle. The significance of the site was first revealed during a dig in 2012, but the first-ever comprehensive report was published late last month in the 100th edition of the Bulletin de l’École Française d’Extrême-Orient (BEFEO), a journal that has reported the major archaeological finds of Angkor since 1901.
The recent work of the Mission Archéologique Française au Myanmar on excavations investigating the Bronze Age of the Sagaing Region were presented last month in Yangon.
Bronze Age site excavated in Sagaing Region
Myanmar Times, 25 February 2016
Last week, on February 17, Pryce, director of Mission Archéologique Française au Myanmar (MAFM) who leads the mission, and his team presented their findings at the French Institute in Yangon. Their research, conducted from 2014 to 2016, has provided a unique look into life in the Nyaung’gan Bronze Age.
“Bronze Age settlements in Southeast Asia are very rare. There are maybe four in Thailand and a couple in southern Vietnam. It seems that the settlement sites in Oakaie village are very big,” Pryce said.
Excavations to the south of Oakaie village in Butalin township in Sagaing Region have indentified where Bronze Age people lived and shows that many of them worked in the production of stone adzes, beads and bracelets.
Pryce said the findings should be a source of proud for the people for Myanmar and that they allow for the recovery of valuable information about the ways of life of our ancestors.
Full story here.
A hint into the potential archaeology from East Timor – the discovery of a bronze Dong Son drum in Baucau. There have been several such drums found in East Timor now, and similar drums turn up all over Southeast Asia which suggests a rather extensive exchange network of either goods or expertise across the region 2,000 years ago.
Vietnam’s ancient Dong Son drum found in Timor Leste
Viet Nam Net, 03 december 2015
A relatively intact bronze drum believed to belong to the Dong Son culture, originating in Vietnam over 2,000 years ago, has recently been discovered in Timor Leste.
The drum, 1.03 metres in diameter, 78 cm in height, and 80kg in weight, was found accidentally at a construction site in Baucau, the second largest city in Timor Leste, in late 2014. However, official information was just released in late November this year after researchers had conducted preliminary assessment.
Archaeologist Nuno Vasco Oliveira from the Timor Lester Government’s General Directorate of Art and Culture said he is certain that the item is a Dong Son bronze drum – an icon of the Dong Son culture (700 B.C. – 100 AD) of the ancient Vietnamese people.
This is not the first time a Dong Son drum has been found in Timor Leste. The ones previously unearthed were badly damaged while the newly found item is in a relatively good condition.
Full story here.
The New York Times’ review of the Philippine Gold exhibition at the Asia Society.
Review: ‘Philippine Gold: Treasures of Forgotten Kingdoms’
New York Times, 24 September 2015
More than half a millennium before Ferdinand Magellan reached the archipelago now called the Philippines in 1521, a number of related societies thrived there. Little is known about them. They left no enduring architecture, monuments or literature. One thing is certain, however: They were astoundingly skillful goldsmiths.
The star of the show and the biggest piece is a gleaming sash that could be mistaken for a futuristic ammunition belt. Made of myriad gold beads, it’s designed to be worn over one shoulder, across the chest and to the hip where one end threads through a loop and concludes with the setting for a now lost finial. Nearly five feet long and square sectioned (about an inch on a side), it weighs about nine pounds.
Another striking piece, called a kamagi, consists of 12 necklaces strung together into a nearly 15-foot-long chain punctuated by small, colored stones. The individual necklaces are composed of smooth, interlocking beads that combine to form flexible, snakelike lengths of gold.
Full story here.
An exhibition of gold artefacts from the Philippines opened earlier this month at the Asia Society in New York. Philippine Gold: Treasures of Forgotten Kingdoms will run until 3 January 2016.
Phillipines History to Shine at Asia Society Museum
Newsweek, 06 September 2015
Philippine Gold Glitters in the Big Apple
The Filipino Express, 07 September 2015
A Golden Discovery in the Philippines
Asia Society, 11 September 2015
When Filipino worker Berto Morales was digging on a government irrigation project in 1981, he literally struck gold. But what he found that day was worth more than its weight—he had uncovered evidence of a lost civilization.
On Friday, Asia Society New York unveiled its exhibition Philippine Gold: Treasures of Forgotten Kingdoms, displaying more than 100 gold artifacts on loan from the Ayala Museum and the Central Bank of the Philippines in Manila. Most objects trace back to the Kingdom of Butuan — a still scarcely understood civilization centered on the island of Mindanao that rose to prominence in the 10th century before mysteriously declining in the 13th. But it took more than seven centuries for the objects to be found, and once they were, they wouldn’t be seen in the West for another several decades.
Gold has always factored into the history of the Philippines, a country still estimated to have as much as $1 trillion worth of untapped deposits beneath its surface. And despite what little is known about Butuan some aspects of its society clearly revolved around the precious metal.
Full story here, here and here.
Ancient gold jewelry from the Ayala Museum collection will be exhibited for the first time in New York at the Asia Society from next month.
NY society to get a glimpse of Philippine pre-colonial gold
Philippine Inquirer, 12 August 2015
When the exhibit of gold artifacts from the Philippines opens at the Asia Society Museum in New York City next month, visitors will be astounded by the quality and intricacy of the pieces. The fact that they date from the 10th to the 13th centuries should be even more cause for amazement.
This is the first time that these pre-colonial gold objects, on loan from the collections of Ayala Museum and Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), will be exhibited in the United States.
“Philippine Gold: Treasures of Forgotten Kingdoms” opens Sept. 11 and will run until early January 2016.
Full story here.